They attribute this famous quotation to Yogi Berra:
“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
but it could well apply to Australia’s National Mens Football Team (known as the “Socceroos”) heroic campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, following on from their previous courageous qualifying campaign to reach Russia in 2018.
Road to Qualification 2022
In the Asian Confederation, the two top ranked teams in from two Groups A and B automatically qualify for the final 32. Unfortunately, for the Socceroos they finished 3rd in Group B, which meant that they needed to contest an extra round of knock-out competition for qualification into the final 32.
Contrary to their what many pundits were saying, the Socceroos overcame their opponents in an Asian qualifier (against United Arab Emirates, UAE, 2-1) and a South American (CONMEBOL), Intercontinental Qualifier (against Peru, 0-0 extra time, 5-4 penalties). Normally, these playoff matches would have been home and away contests with the best aggregate score deciding the winner. However, owing to time constraints from the worldwide Covid-19 epidemic, contests became one-chance matches, played in Qatar, with the winner qualifying to the next stage.
Interestingly, the 2022 victory against Peru is déjà vu of the 2006 CONMEBOL qualifier against Uruguay (aggregate 1-1 after home and away and 4-2 after penalties and extra time). That was when Australia qualified after 32 years in the football wilderness. Since 2006, the Socceroos have qualified for the final 32 in every World Cup (after 2006 Australia moved from the Oceania to the Asian Confederation). In 2022, the déjà vu was from the 2018 World Cup, where their qualification was also via demanding repechage rounds. That time after defeating both Syria (Asian Qualifier) and Honduras (Intercontinental Qualifier, CONCACAF).
Group Stage Competition
For this 2022 World Cup, the Socceroos find themselves in Group D with opponents. France, Tunisia and Denmark, in that playing order. In a remarkable déjà vu of 2018, where the Socceroos opponents in Group C were France, Denmark and Peru in 2022. The Socceroos’ first match against France is the same as for 2018. The chances of playing the same 2 teams in successive World Cups, and in playing their first match against France again, is improbable. Though not as improbable as you might first think: FIFA divides the 32 finalists into 4 pots, where pot 1 contains tokens for the top 8-teams according to ranking. The next 8 best ranked teams are in pot 2 and so on. The probability of Australia being in the same group as France and Denmark and in playing France as their first game is 1 in 8 x 8 x 8 x 3 = 1 in 1536. An unlikely occurrence that earns the sobriquet of the article title: “déjà vu all over again”.
In their 2018 World Cup first game, the opening goal was to France’s striker Antoine Griezmann in a controversial penalty decision. The referee initially allowed play to continue, but after about a minute, went to the VAR before deciding upon a penalty and Griezmann made no mistake with the shot. This was the first time that FIFA has used VAR technology in a World Cup match. Some minutes later, Australia equalised through a less controversial penalty taken by Mile Jedinak. Eventually, France won the game in the 82nd minute when a strike by Paul Pogba hit the crossbar and the ball bounced inside the goal. This goal was a close thing and required goal-line technology to confirm. Many commentators, including Socceroos coach Van Marwijk, felt that not only the French team, but the sports technology combined to beat Australia .
After the match against France, the Socceroos completed a creditable draw against Denmark 1-1 after the indomitable Eric Christensen scored in the 7th minute. The ever-reliable Mile Jedinak equalised from a penalty in the 38th minute for Australia. In their last match against Peru, the Socceroos were hopeful of a favourable result. But the Peruvian team, disappointed with poor performances in their earlier games, found the sparkling form that had previously eluded them, defeating the Socceroos 0-2. Unfortunately, this meant that both the La Blanquirroja (The White and Red) and the Socceroos both went home after the Group stage. Many commentators gave the Socceroos a mixed reception upon their arrival home considering that they had under-performed. Yes, they had given creditable performances against illustrious opposition, but they had managed only 2 goals, both from the penalty spot by Mile Jedinak.
In the 1993 comedy movie “Groundhog Day”  our protagonist, Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray), gets to repeat the same day over-and-over until he learns something about his life. Given the number of unlikely déjà vu with the socceroos, we might wonder — what is it that the Socceroos need to learn this time around in the World Cup? Unlike Phil Connors on Groundhog Day, the Socceroos have only one shot in the Group rounds in November to learn whatever it is the football gods want them to learn.
Can the Socceroos perform any better in Qatar 2022? Opposition teams in France and Denmark are no less formidable than in 2018. Both teams are fully expecting to reach the round of 16 and make their way into the final stages of the competition. Tunisia is an almost unknown quantity. The last time Australia played Tunisia was at a Confederations Cup in 2005  where the socceroos lost 0-2. Tunisia is in much the same position as Australia: a regular qualifier to World Cup finals (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2018) but never making it out of the Group stage. Australia having made it out the Groups only once in 2006.
What do the Socceroos to need to learn? First, Australian football is very close to regularly matching the world’s best. Four years has a way of dimming memory. Considering that France ranked 1st at the time and went on the win the 2018 World Cup, the 2-1 result with Australia is highly creditable. Second, the socceroos have been missing an established Head coach whom can unite a team where the players come from club teams from all over the world. A coach who can establish an esprit de corps. Graham Arnold, the Socceroos’ perpetual understudy as coach, finally gets his chance as Head Coach in 2022. Arnold was assistant coach to Guus Hiddink in the 2006 World Cup finals, Pim Verbeek in 2010, Ange Postecoglou in 2014 and Bert van Marwijk in 2018.
In 2018, Football Australia lost confidence in coach Ange Postecoglou after the difficult repechage against Syria and Honduras. They appointed Bert Van Marwijk as head coach of the Socceroos for the World Cup and warm-up games. Under Van Marwijk, the Socceroos typically played more defensively than under Ange Postecoglou, using a 4-5-1 configuration in their World Cup matches. With Graham Arnold, Australia has the chance to take a longer term view on building a national team that can match it with the likes of the French national team.
In medieval times, alchemists used high-temperature crucibles for refining of pure metals. Calciniing involved heating to high temperatures in a crucible to drive off volatile impurities. Alchemists could also refine metals by melting them in a crucible and skimming off the dross. In Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible , about the Salem witch trials 1692-3. Miller metaphorically uses the word both as a test of the true mettle of his characters and as a way of separating truth from lies and falsehood.
The one factor breaking the déjà vu from 2018 is the worldwide Covid-19 epidemic. This is significant for the Socceroos because:
- many Socceroos players are travelling on long-haul flights from their clubs in Europe and elsewhere, and
- Australia maintained closed-borders during the epidemic for a much longer period than did most of the rest of the world.
Normally, FIFA holds the World Cup qualifying games home-and-away to remove the home game advantage. The pandemic and Australia’s closed borders meant the Socceroos played most of their round 3 home Asian Confederation qualifying games in Kuwait , forfeiting any home advantage that they might have enjoyed.
Australia reopened its borders later in the pandemic, but maintained strict quarantine conditions. Every time the socceroos returned to Australia, or crossed a state border, required 7 days in hotel quarantine. Periods in quarantine, limited opportunities for training and socialising. Coach Graham Arnold  recalls spending 94 days in quarantine in 7 months, contracting Covid-19 twice in 2-months and being separated from family for long periods almost drove him to resign.
Nearing the end of their AFC qualifiers, the Socceroos may have hoped for more favourable results on home soil, but a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia in Western Sydney and a 0-2 loss against Japan at Stadium Australia , ensured that the Socceroos would face repechage rounds to qualify, as mentioned before.
Opposition teams faced the same Government quarantine lockdowns while in Australia but not when they returned to their own countries, as the Socceroos did. Whether this affected the outcomes, we’ll never know for sure. Though Graham Arnold clearly felt that it did .
Having gone through a challenging experience in their AFC and international qualifier rounds, the Socceroos have already had their mettle tested by fire. For most teams in the final 32, their crucible will be in the round-robin stage of the World Cup.
From this point-of-view the Socceroos will have a starting edge over their opposition. While the Socceroos might lack the individual brilliance of a Kylian Mbappe, they have confidence in each other that they have proven themselves true.
The crucible ensures that when crunch time comes, Australians know we can count on the Socceroos to perform at their best.
For these reasons, the Socceroos have broken the déjà vu from 2018 and opened up a new frontier for the 2022 World Cup.
 K. Pender, “Australia suffer 21st century defeat as technology makes mark at World Cup,” The Guardian, Jun. 16, 2018. Accessed: Nov. 1, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jun/17/australia-suffer-21st-century-defeat-as-technology-makes-it-mark-on-world-cup
 Groundhog Day, (1993).
 “FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005TM,” FIFA, Jun. 2005. https://www.fifa.com/tournaments/mens/confederationscup/germany2005/match-center (accessed Nov. 1, 2022).
 A. Miller, The Crucible: a Play in Four Acts, 17th ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2015.
 “2022 FIFA World Cup qualification – AFC third round,” Wikipedia. Apr. 14, 2023. Accessed: Nov. 1, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=2022_FIFA_World_Cup_qualification_%E2%80%93_AFC_third_round&oldid=1149781849#KSA_v_AUS
 Z. Rayson, “‘I’ve had enough’: Socceroos boss was inches from giving up on brutal World Cup journey,” Fox Sports, Aug. 12, 2022. https://www.foxsports.com.au/football/socceroos/world-cup-2022-graham-arnold-opens-up-on-socceroos-road-to-qatar-news-football/news-story/c06d576d7045d6b6eae2b72e38a59813 (accessed Nov. 1, 2022).